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Afghanistan crisis and implications for the future

Published on 19 August 2021

The speed of the Taliban takeover of Kabul has shocked people globally, as have the scenes that followed, with many citizens desperately trying to access the airport and leave the country.

At the Institute of Development Studies, we share this shock and concern for citizens across Afghanistan.  Together with the University of Sussex we are also deeply concerned for the talented Afghans awarded UK Government-backed Chevening Scholarships to study in the UK but who are now facing great uncertainty over necessary documentation for travel. Our Director Prof Melissa Leach has been strongly urging the UK Foreign Secretary to urgently find a way to help these scholars to safely arrive in the UK and take up their places to study here as planned.

Beyond the urgent priorities of evacuation, refugee settlement and humanitarian aid programmes, IDS researchers and partners have begun to reflect on wider implications of the crisis in Afghanistan. Here they provide some initial comment and perspectives based on ongoing research around issues including freedom of religion and belief, the rights of woman and girls and on the potential impacts for neighbouring Pakistan and the wider region.

Freedom of religion and belief

Professor Mariz Tadros, Research Fellow, and Director of the Coalition for Religious Equality and Inclusive Development (CREID), comments:

“The Taliban’s takeover of Kabul is devastating news, not only for Afghans themselves and all those who worked so hard to rebuild their country. There are also serious ramifications for Afghanistan’s neighbours and beyond. Amongst those whom the Taliban will very likely target will be religious minorities such as the Hazara Shia. In the CREID programme, we have already witnessed and documented the discrimination experienced by Hazara Shias in neighbouring Pakistan, which was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Sadly, we anticipate that this group, amongst other minorities, will experience increased targeting and violence on both sides of the border.”

For more on the risks to religious minorities in Afghanistan, read the opinion: Who is afraid of the Taliban?

Women and girls

Dr. Shandana Khan Mohmand, Cluster Leader and Research Fellow, working on the research programme  ‘Sustaining Power: Women’s Struggles Against Contemporary Backlash in South Asia’ (SuPWR)’, said:

“By far the most significant implications are for the lives, struggles, ambitions, careers, hopes and dreams of women and girls in Afghanistan (50% of the population). The last 20 years had provided some space for Afghan women in different domains (from the personal to political) but given the extremist norms and political ideology that the Taliban will want to enforce, it is hard to imagine that they will be able to hold on to any gains. We’re already seeing a wider backlash against women’s hard-won rights across the region, and we are extremely concerned that we may see its most severe form in Afghanistan.”

Maheen Sultan Senior Fellow of Practice and Head of Gender and Social Development Cluster, BRAC University, Bangladesh and research partner for the Countering Backlash programme, said:

“While there is a sense of disbelief and fear of the takeover of the country by the Taliban there is a strong anti-US feeling in the country as well. Regarding women’s rights and human rights there is worry about what is happening to women in Afghanistan and how they will be victimised. But while we are agonising over images of people trying to flee, separately clinging on to planes, there is another group that is finding it funny and is putting thousands of “ha ha” emojis on social media reporting of the airport scenes. And it is shocking to see such diverse reactions.

“As we know that different political Islam groups have strong interconnections, we are worried about how such groups in our region and country of Bangladesh may be strengthened by the Taliban takeover.”

Pakistan and the wider region

Dr. Shandana Khan Mohmand, Cluster Leader and Research Fellow, and lead for the IDS Pakistan Hub, commenting on the possible implications for the region surrounding Afghanistan said:

“The situation in Afghanistan is tragic at multiple levels for the Afghan people, and dangerous for the region as a whole. The situation has two immediate implications for Pakistan and the South Asia region more broadly.

“The first is an increase in refugee numbers, and the fact that Pakistan’s economy, already under pressure, will offer very few resources with which to provide for people fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan has taken in millions of refugees from Afghanistan in the past but has not done well on providing them with basic services. The country will need the international community to help provide for those arriving now. As the global development community, we also call on all governments to open their borders to Afghans.

“The second implication is the possible strengthening of Pakistan’s own Taliban networks that are connected to the Afghan Taliban. With their counterparts now in power next door, it is conceivable that they will gain in resources and strength. This is dangerous for Pakistan’s fragile post-insurgency situation.”

International community support needed

Researchers at the Social Science in Humanitarian Action Platform (SSHAP), a partnership between the Institute of Development Studies, Anthrologica and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which focuses on the social dimensions of emergency responses, commented:

“We remain concerned about the quickly unfolding events in Afghanistan. It is likely that the country’s existing humanitarian crises will be significantly magnified. We urge the international community to support Afghans who remain in the country, as well as those seeking asylum and protection abroad. Existing and new governance structures in Afghanistan will also need support and engagement. The needs of those most vulnerable, especially women and girls, and religious and ethnic minorities must be central to all response.”

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